I missed my anniversary (part 2): The elevator pitch.

ElevatorI have become a convert to the wisdom of Brene Brown. I wrote this quote in my journal back in the spring:

“Day two is that middle space… when you’re in the dark. The door has closed behind you. You’re too far in to turn around, and not close enough to the end to see the light.”

This encapsulates my first year of freelancing. I had the security of a job, then the prospect of something different, the adrenaline rush of the first few months’ freedom before, as Brene says, the blackout of the second stage. When work is coming, but only in a steady trickle, what do you do?

In some ways, the first year seemed slow, yet taking in all twelve months, a lot happened. Don’t get me wrong, I’d like more paid work, but when you’ve stayed in the same building for twenty years, figuring out what lies beyond takes time. I always said it was going to be messy and confusing and frustrating. It would have been easier if I had actually believed it though!

The one huge learning curve has been to get the elevator pitch sorted. (For the uninitiated, the elevator pitch is when you can tell someone what you do and why you do it in the time it takes the elevator to reach the floor you need. In my case, my pitch only ever worked if the elevator got stuck.) Over the summer a good friend asked me about work during dinner; I think I took the best part of forty-five minutes to explain. Thankfully he had food and water for sustenance. Since then, I’ve spent a few weeks revising, developing and honing what it is we do.

Facilitation in its simplest form, is when you make answering a question easier for someone, or more usually a group. As Confluence Facilitation, Lorraine and I have taken on a variety of pieces of work; Lorraine has assorted roles in youth work training and practice, and I still work with school staff teams looking at diversity and mutual understanding. But the two aspects that emerged last year are resilience and interpersonal communication.

  1. Resilience: Finding a rhythm for the long run.

A few years ago, I was sitting with my very helpful counsellor who was helping me cope with stress. It was a Thursday after school and she asked me what I planned to do after our session was over, I said I needed to start work writing up next week’s teaching notes. I think she wanted me to reflect on my working practices, so the conversation went like this.
“What would happen if you didn’t write up those notes tonight?”
“I’d have to do them tomorrow, on Friday night.”
“What would happen if you didn’t write them up tomorrow?”
“I’d have to do them at the weekend.”
“What would happen if you didn’t do them at the weekend?”
“Well, on Monday morning I’d have twenty-seven children in my room, and no clear plan about what I should be doing with them. That would be quite stressful for me.”

That was the light bulb moment. As helpful as she was, she didn’t really get my world. The people who could best understand my stress, were the people who experienced the same stress. By the time I was leaving teaching, I had begun to piece together what a workplace conversation might look like.

In November last year, we trialled a workshop with a willing group of friends. Since then we have led another eight workshops, facilitating conversation around what energises you (and how you protect those things), what drains you (and how you limit those things) and what restores you (and how you cultivate those things). Along the way we have collected a bank of resources, both practices and anecdotes, and honed our delivery. The next step is promotion.

  1. Finding Common Ground: Creating space to share perspectives.

I was a teacher for twenty years. We did two sets of parent-teacher meetings per year. My class numbers were mostly in the late twenties, but let’s say twenty-five; that’s a thousand scheduled interviews, and then all the phone calls and ad hoc early morning/after class meetings.

A few years back, during training courses with Mediation NI, I was introduced to a number of helpful approaches to interpersonal communication. Some of it was firmly in my own experience, other aspects were completely new and a revelation! This left me thinking, why is this training not provided in education?

My first few years in parent-teacher meetings focussed on imparting information to parents about their child’s progress, but I soon learned while this has its place, more important is creating the space for a more balanced conversation. What can I tell you from what I can see? But what can you tell me from your perspective?

It’s not just parents and teachers. This is about how work colleagues relate, or management communicate with their staff, or how professionals from two collaborating organisations connect. When you sense you’re not quite on the same page with someone, or the conversation is fast becoming a debate, or you see signs that the other person has become tense or annoyed, what do you do next?

During the last year we applied a number of memorable, helpful communication tools in a variety of settings. Over the summer, we’ve tidied these into a package called Finding Common Ground: Creating space to share perspectives. There are eight components for clients to choose from, according to what they need and the time they have available. Workshops can last from ninety minutes to a full day.

These aim to help participants:

  • Recognise what other (unspoken and often unrecognised) factors play a part in a conversation.
  • Reflect on how they invite others into a conversation.
  • Examine their own and others’ emotions, needs and requests, in order to find agreement.
  • Recognise the fears of another party, the roles people play, and how to move a conversation away from negativity towards a positive outcome.
  • Limit the negative effects when identity feels threatened.
  • Consider the nature of a conversation, create space for empathy and share perspective clearly.

So, here’s the elevator pitch: Confluence Facilitation helps people share with people about who they are and what they need. Specifically, what people need to keep doing what they do well over the long term, and what they need to share perspectives with someone else in the workplace.

Nailed it. Well, for now!

There will always be a plethora of other little bits and pieces to do, but this year is going to be more intentional. We still believe creating space for people to share their story is at the core of what we do, and resilience and finding common ground are two expressions which have the capacity to make people’s lives better.

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